Green girls track trying to find right fits

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent
Green Olivia Gang races to a first place finish in the Division I Cross Country Regional Tournament at Boardman High School on Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020 in  Boardman, Ohio.  [Mike Cardew/Beacon Journal]

GREEN – The COVID-19 pandemic has led to smaller turnouts for many local track teams and altered schedules featuring invitational meets with more limitations on the number of entrants, the Green girls track team has done its best to get off to a strong start.

The Bulldogs, whose roster contains 64 athletes – in line with the roster size in recent seasons – have gotten two meets under their belts entering this week and had the chance to take part in the Kenston Relays last week, venturing away from other invitationals more common to their Federal League rivals.

The trip north was, according to veteran head coach Jacob Saylor, a positive experience.

"The girls really enjoy going to those team-oriented meets," Saylor said. "They have a lot of the races you don't usually see at other meets."

Relay meets typically including sprint relays, long distance relays, hurdle relays and even throwing event relays. One of the more unique events at the meet was the 6,400 relay, which sees four runners each run a mile. At most traditional meets, the 3,200 relay is the longest relay race.

Saylor noted that the quartet that ran the 6,400 relay at Kenston was comprised of four members of the cross country team. They are, to say the least, very familiar with running together.

"It's a very long event and the goal of that race is to keep contact with somebody throughout and run with them," Saylor said. "Those four girls are a really tight-knit group of distance runners who know each other well and that really helps with things like handoffs."

The group is comprised of Olivia Gang, Leigha Hall, Liv Fortner and Carmen Sims, all of whom have enjoyed cross country success for the Bulldogs. They're among the veterans on a team that includes freshmen and sophomore classes who began this season having never experienced a varsity season due to the pandemic wiping out the 2020 campaign.

To help keep everyone as safe as possible, the coaching staff has broken the squad down into smaller groups divided up into specialties. The upperclassmen in each group have been asked to help lead their unit, making seniors such as Gang and Erica Werntz an even more valuable commodity.

As they practice and compete, the Bulldogs are enjoying not only an opportunity to participate in a sport they enjoy, but also experience face time with friends and teammates they have seen less of this school year as the district has gone exclusively to online learning at certain times.

"We're definitely seeing them have a lot fun this year and the camaraderie's been great," Saylor said. "Being behind the computer screen so much and having to have masks on when they're at school, this is a chance to get outside and spend time together."

That joy of simply being able to escape Google Meets and masks for a few hours has proven to be a blessing. Being out on the track, moving and competing, has brought smiles and a sense of relief, according to Saylor.

However, there are still the normal challenges of a new season. That includes the coaching staff trying athletes in different events and seeing where everyone fits. Because so many members of the roster are new to varsity track, they're learning on the job. Moving runners around between events and trying to fit people into races such as the 400 meters is an ongoing effort, one that will continue later this month as the team hosts the Green Twilight Relays. The meet, Saylor noted, is an outgrowth of a meet the Bulldogs planned to attend but which reduced the size of its field due to the pandemic.

"We're still throwing some people in different events, trying to find some 400 runners and moving some people up distances and down distances," Saylor said. "Our goals are to have strong showings at our relay and invitational meets and improving in every meet and race."

As the season unfolds and they chase those goals, the Bulldogs do so both with their normal competitive outlook and with a renewed appreciation for simply having the chance to run, jump and throw.